Thursday 26 May 2022

Too much work for myself as paramontage jobs line up

What started as a mere experiment, the genesis of the idea stemming from my frustration with linocutting (which I recently tried and found too hard – I don’t have the patience that I had when I was young, nor the steely nerves required for intense manual work) has ballooned out of control as I give in to intimations and urges to create and to make things using skills developed over decades. This need for expression is unquenchable and strong, I’ve had a lack of outlets for so long I cannot remember how to draw and have fallen into a kind of hole to get out of which activities I spent so many of the lost years doing have been productively recycled into another type of art making. 

It feels somewhat like I’m living a different life, or else it’s a feeling like I’ve travelled to a new country to live. It’s a bit scary but the views are nice.

To whit: in the last post in this series I listed the four types of work I’ve made, I group them into “classes” starting with what I designed at the end of April. It seems like more than a month, however: it feels like an age but, then, memory doesn’t serve very well to place markers on time and its passing, I need to consult file property information, data that my computer stores and that’s attached to the little bits of code inside which my artworks are organised according to principles – the logic of which I am completely ignorant. I can only marvel as the facility with which a file opens up like a flower when I double-click on the icon on my computer screen inside the comforting embrace of its graphical user interface.

On the morning of 24 May, about a month after all this photographic enterprise began, I had a hunch that I’d buy a piece of furniture to organise and store the artworks. I planned to put it downstairs in the dining area where it’d be close to people visiting. I could grab a print to show someone what I’d made when they came over for lunch, I thought to myself complacently. 

My paramontages were taking on a life of their own, compelling me to open up one poetry PDF or another looking for something to go with a series of photos I had in my computer – and in the cloud – look! Here … This one. That one. These. Those recent poems from 2021, from a time after I’d just written a long biographical sequence. 

“I like this match,” I’d think to myself as the reading consoned with the images I’d just spent a few minutes perusing.

Like this, putting together a poem and a sequence of photos involves a kind of alchemy, the paramontage just sort of clicks into plan when I read a poem after having decided to use a series of images. Once I get to the end of a poem – in the case of snapshots dating back to November 2007 showing Marlowe Street – one titled ‘Everyone an artist’ I knew that it could constitute a work, that it would summon up the muses in a certain way and convey a certain message, something forlorn and lost among the intimations I’d fostered while watching TV or while walking down the street among Saturday morning shoppers.

I had a hunch and now I would put it into execution, realise the potential of the material, make something unique that the world had never seen before. 

I am the artist I but what surprised me more than anything was that it is precisely the skills developed over years working in idiotic roles in stupid organisations come to my rescue. Or that hijacked my impulsion to create. Imagine a machine taking over, gaining control of the levers that drive daily activity and using them for its own purposes. Because I make all these works of art with a machine I am alternatively like some sort of pilot or machine operator, beavering away in obscurity while the mechanism runs rampant through the world like the robots from Mars in ‘War of the Worlds’. In fact because of the way that software needs to be operated I was turning into a kind of machine myself, pulling on the synthetic arms, dragging the metallic costume out of a cupboard and getting ready to enter the world.

But as the title of this blogpost says I was looking for someone to help me, someone to assemble the “uniform” or “grid” paramontages I had plotted out. I took the photo files set aside in their own folder, labelled conveniently so there would be no ambiguity, I the poems selected and ready to deploy, I‘d even chosen the background colour for the text of the poem to sit on like an emerald in a signet ring.

But then I balked at the work, remembering those tiring years of labour as a wage slave, those endless afternoons and those crowded suburban commutes in a packed train swaying as it lumbered over the river bordering Tokyo or through the suburbs ringing the Sydney CBD. 

I decided to use a different class of paramontage for the Mardi Gras photos. I decided that the class I’d use would be different though I had no label to describe it. 

I wondered what I should call this class of work. A class of work where all the photos are different sizes (well, not all, but where no single, uniform size dominates completely). 

Saturday 21 May 2022

Mixing up styles of paramontages

A few mornings ago I prepared hundreds of photos for new paramontages (my mixed poetry/photography assemblages) but then after thinking about all the work that’s involved I have let them sit untouched, it’s a lot positioning photos accurately in GIMP (my free graphics software) and in any case I wanted to do something different. So I made a few without the uniformity of the first productions.

Initially, back at the end of last month, I’d had printed snapshots so that they could be framed together with poems, but then I started making paramontages in a computer file on a grid, with each photo the same size as all the other photos in the final version that is used to generate the JPG file. Now, however, I was taking a different tack, buffing up my image manipulation skills so that I could put differently-sized photos together to make compositions. Also, I was now using shorter (6-line) poems from a document called ‘Before Dawn’. This from its introduction:

I started this collection of writerly sketches this year [2021] in late July or early August, making individual files in the dead of winter at a time when I’d almost finished working on a series of longer biographical poems titled ‘Winter Nouns’. I later brought them all together into an MS-Word file but the reason for brevity in the present case was in order to offer myself a sense of contrast compared to what had just occurred in the creative sphere and I wanted to try doing things in short instead of expatiating at length on what had taken place in my life over the course of many eventful years.

In addition to using these short items to accompany assembled photographs I decided to use one of the longer biographical sketches from ‘Winter Nouns’ alongside photographs. One of the files I have in my USB stick ready to go to the printer has part of that sequence in it along with photos taken recently while I was out shopping for mouthwash and batteries. In fact I put new batteries in the Canon on the way out the store’s exit.

As a result of all this activity I have four brands of paramontage ready to show or else ready to print. There are the first ones I did using photos taken in 2008, then a series of grid-like paramontages using photos from different years with free-form poems or with sonnets. Thirdly there are the variously-sized photos in paramontages with short, 6-line poems (one has a sonnet as well). Finally there’s one poem from ‘Winter Nouns’ with photos.

I plan my next excursion to the print shop to fall on Monday afternoon, once the argy-bargy of the election is settled. I probably could use email to send my files to them but I prefer to talk to staff to make sure that I get what I want, even if, due to my inability to manage numbers efficiently, I sometimes give them the wrong instructions. Yesterday when I picked up the latest batch of prints the guy on the desk asked me if I was getting ready for an exhibition, I told him “No” but he’s a nice young man who also wants to be an artist himself.

Thursday 19 May 2022

Picked up new lot of paramontages

A friend asked me to go to see the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prize finalists so I jumped on the bus at around midday yesterday to go into town. I traded the bus for a train at Green Square and met this person at Museum Station. The day was exceptionally fine for a change (we’d had a string of sunny days) so it was a good opportunity to drop by Pixel Perfect in Chippendale on the way home to pick up more prints. While in the area I collected mail at my PO box but what was there had been misaddressed so I just left it with a staffer at the post office.

I found upon reaching home that two of the prints were the wrong size and I called the shop to find out why. It turns out my instructions had been incorrect, so wasted money was my fault. I put the too-big prints downstairs in the storeroom and upstairs in the studio assessed the viability of what had survived the blades of close scrutiny.

Overall I was happy with the results. Some of the text is a bit wonky because GIMP, the graphics manipulation software package I use, isn’t very good with text. Because it’s for photographs the tools they provide to manipulate text are not very sophisticated and you can’t change fonts within a text box. Instead, you have to alternate separate text boxes for italics and normal versions of the same font, which is what I do in some of my sonnets. 

The variety of fonts in the sonnets is needed to enable the use of different voices. So you might have the main narrative voice using Times New Roman and the voice of another speaker in the same poem will be in italics. I alternate between voices in several poems in order to generate dramatic effects.

Here is the video I made on the morning this post went up. It was very early and dark outside but I get up at the crack of dawn so when I was writing this post at 4am I’d already prepared photos for five more paramontages since rising from my slumbers. 

I had some small amount of feedback from the first video I put up (on the 18th of May), the comments being not about the poem itself or about the photographs accompanying it. The comments were about the quality of the video production, so it seems that in addition to being a photographer and a poet I have also to be a good cineaste. So be it!

I am unwisely considering the ways that I can improve my production skills. One thing would be to print out the poem and hold it in my other hand (the hand not holding the phone) so that I can read it when holding the sheet of paper closer to my face than the phone wants in order to show the sheet of photographic paper to best effect. One thing I found difficult when making that video about the paramontage ‘Precious’ is it was difficult to take a video and read the poem at the same time. Having the poem handy and printed out on a sheet of white paper would, I guess, alleviate that problem.

When you see these things in the flesh (so to speak) you get a sense of scale and poise that a digital file seen on the screen, most often with the poem only legible by zooming in on part of the object, cannot offer. These prints form part of a portfolio that I feel compelled to create, combining with serendipity written texts and visual, sensual renditions of the real world in ways that generate meaning beyond the individual component parts. At least, that’s what I think. Perhaps if you drop by you can spend time with them yourself.

Tuesday 17 May 2022

Looking for a word for new artworks

I’ve been coming back to creativity for a few weeks via back channels, initially combining some old photos from 2007 with a sonnet written in 2014 (and edited in 2020), the photos taken at Top Ryde, a place in the north of Sydney, at a time when I was struggling. In fact it was the beginnings of a mental breakdown the following year. 

The sonnet describes some of what that episode felt like, but while the images were taken when I was unwell the poem was written at times when my mental health was stable. It’s very difficult to write coherently when you’re in the middle of a crisis, the sense gets jumbled and you cannot express yourself with the force necessary to communicate with a reader, though because memory persists over time it’s possible to make something meaningful at a later date.

I got the Top Ryde photos printed at Pixel Perfect in Chippendale, they do good work and are not expensive. It’s far and away the best way to get a good result for a reasonable outlay. I got encouragement when I went to the Sydney World Film Festival over a few nights this month, it was also in Chippendale in the Central Park complex on Broadway. I’m able to get there by bus by catching the 309, which is handy, and I spoke one night with a woman who listened to my problem and made appropriate comments.

I then had another problem with nomenclature for the new assemblages I also started making (using words combined with images) as “montages”. This word has a specific meaning in the world of filmmaking that is different from what I’m doing, however, and so I set myself a goal of coming up with an alternative label. Initially I thought about “imards” and “compomages” but such portmanteau words are a bit pretentious, so when an old secondary school friend suggested “paramontages” I was delighted.

This word exactly captures what I want to do, which is to go beyond (“para” as a prefix can mean “beyond” whatever it is attached to) mere assemblages of photographs. As I’ve made more of these compositions I’ve come to understand the possibilities of the form, how you can vary the colour of the text, or of the background underneath the text. How you can move the text box around the composition, placing it near the bottom or on an edge. There are a wide variety of subtle changes that can help to lend meaning to the whole.

On Monday 16 May I went to Pixel Perfect Prolab and picked up one I’d made the week before, the thing came in a tube (I asked about reuse but was told I could bring it back the next time or not, they didn’t have a preference) which I carried home on the bus. I was very pleased with the result but regretted that I hadn’t used italics for some of the text (a word in Italian), placing the finished object on a bookshelf upstairs in the studio with four other items they’d made for me.

Saturday and Sunday were busy days, and even when I got back on Monday I made two more of the files (I use JPEG format) having become used to the manual labour involved to get the job done. Working like this is easy for me as for many years I did desktop publishing with a variety of software packages including graphics editors, and manipulating the interface took me back to those many years of happy toil when I was working in Japan for a manufacturing company. 

The object has changed but the skills are the same. 

I still find it hard to sit down and draw because of the many wasted years. I’d wanted to be an artist but dad’d wanted me to go to university to study and get a degree so being a dutiful son I complied with his wishes, which was disastrous for my health and wellbeing. Had I chosen to be more bolshie when I was 17 my life would’ve turned out very differently but going against the man’s wishes was for me impossible as I loved him and even if he was stubborn he was a good communicator.

While the lost time bothers me, by making paramontages I feel connected with both of my legacy skillsets, the design talent firmed up by years of doing layout, and the writing.

I started writing poetry in 2007 after I got some stability in my life, and wrote constantly also on the blog and professionally as a journalist over the years since 2009 (when I went freelance). Paramontages give me access to a broad range of capabilities in creating meaning, so I plan to make more of them in future. My current plans include matching more of my sonnets with photographs, including for one work where the photos haven’t yet been taken. Look forward to it.

The paramontage above is 'Syntax prescribes - II', which includes images taken on 2 June 2019 between 11.01am and 12.51pm and words written on 9 December 2020; 8, 9, 11, 20 March and 15, 26 September 2021. 

Friday 13 May 2022

More hybrid works (paramontage)

The deskwork needed to make these works is onerous so I've been putting off getting stuck into the final two. I wish I could locate someone to do it for me. Yesterday I visited the print shop, Pixel Perfect Prolab, in Chippendale and picked up five large items they'd done for me, including two paramontages. I wonder if they have an editing service that I could use to get the assembly work done by someone other than me. Having worked in a publishing unit for many years I am competent to do the work but it's boring and difficult.

I've settled on the term "paramontage", it was suggested to me by an old school friend who himself writes poetry. I'd contemplated "montage" but this term is used in the cinema industry and has a specific meaning, though one close to what I envisage. "Paramontage" is a portmanteau word that encapsulates the complexity of my aim, but that veers off into new territory. Thanks Andrew.

The two new works that I'm still in the process of finalising are 'George Street shuffle - I' and 'George Street shuffle - II', the titles deriving from two sonnets I wrote over a period of several years. I won't include the text here (you'll have to wait) but they look at the modern world in a way that allows the photographs that accompany them to add to the signification of the whole. In a mechanised world made up of images and words it's difficult to embody the often overwhelming significance of stray moments, and my aim is to say something with these works that represents a world view. 

Comments welcome (the mockups below might be a bit small though: sorry).

Above: George Street shuffle - I

Images Canon PowerShot A530, 5 July 2008 12.22pm to 3.47pm  
Words20 and 21 September, 12, 25 and 26 November, 2020; 15 and 23 September 2021

Above: George Street shuffle - II

Images – Canon PowerShot A530, 26 June 2008 2.07pm to 4.10pm
Words –
25 and 26 November, and 11 and 26 December, 2020; 14 January and 20 September 2021; 13 May 2022

Wednesday 11 May 2022

Build ring train line to fully utilise Sydney living space

The Sydney Morning Herald as usual was spruiking development today (see pic below) as it turned its focus onto Parramatta where high-rise construction has been changing the aspect of the view for travellers on the M4 for the past 20 years. This is nothing new.

I've got nothing against development, we need more housing as people change their work habits and spend more time at home. As the borders fully open up and more people come to Australia to live the pressure on rents will continue to increase as well. But let's really talk about how to "transorm" the city, let's build a ring train line linking Botany Bay to Parramatta (see pic below), and open up more urban area to the possibility of high-rise development.

If you could get the residents of Vaucluse to participate they could cut down on the horrible commute that people who live out that way must tolerate at peak hours on the roads snaking along the harbour. Imagine if you could get from Watsons Bay to Bondi Junction in 20 minutes at 8.30am, instead of the protracted crawl it requires now?

There is scads of unused land within the existing boundaries of Sydney (Eora) right now, there's in fact no need to go further west to take up viable farmland, we can accommodate twice the number of people as we have now within the same urban and periurban footprint if we put in more public transport. The LNP government has done a stellar job, replacing the neglect of Labor with investment in infrastructure that's desperately needed, but we can do more. Not all train lines need to via Central Station.

Friday 6 May 2022

Hybrid works in progress

Since moving over 15 months ago to this house I've been organising artworks. Many things that mum and dad had in their records, and that had been rolled up in cylinders, have been taken out and sent away to be straightened. I have a good conservator who specialises in paper objects and she's been flattening prints including some linocuts I made 40 years ago.

About 15 years ago, after I returned to live in Australia following a sojourn in Japan that took me to the edge of endurance, I snapped some photos in a number of different streets. Years later I wrote poems to chronicle my experiences, and now I've married those productions with my demonic approach to art by conceiving these "hybrid" objects that have photos and poems. I've bundled up the materials ready to go to the framer.

Above: Top Ryde, Sydney (Eora)

Above: Burwood Road, Sydney (Eora)

Above: Marlowe Street, Sydney (Eora)

Still to decide are construction elements, including the mat board colour and the type of frame. I'm thinking that a taupe board and a dark brown frame for 'Burwood Road', an olive green board and a pale green frame for 'Top Ryde'. I haven't though enough about 'Marlowe Street' yet to have a firm idea about what to use for it.